The ability to detect, identify and quantify bacteria is crucial in clinical diagnostics, environmental testing, food security settings and in microbiology research. Recently, the threat of multidrug-resistant bacterial pathogens pushed the global scientific community to develop fast, reliable, specific and affordable methods to detect bacterial species. The use of synthetically modified enzyme substrates is a convenient approach to detect bacteria in a specific, economic and rapid manner. The method is based on the use of specific enzyme substrates for a given bacterial marker enzyme, conjugated to a signalogenic moiety. Following enzymatic reaction, the signalophor is released from the synthetic substrate, generating a specific and measurable signal. Several types of signalophors have been described and are defined by the type of signal they generate, such as chromogenic, fluorogenic, luminogenic, electrogenic and redox. Signalophors are further subdivided into groups based on their solubility in water, which is key in defining their application on solid or liquid media for bacterial culturing. This comprehensive review describes synthetic enzyme substrates and their applications for bacterial detection, showing their mechanism of action and their synthetic routes.
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